Sheldon Subith: Bringing More Native Americans to Trail Running

Historically, trail running has been a sport dominated by white middle-class males and it’s time for this to change.

In recent years, groups such as Black Girls Run, Latinos Run, and United in Stride have encouraged the trail running community to diversify and raised discussion about how to get more participation in the sport among minority groups. The US Trail Running Conference has also made a strong push over the past two years to illuminate and discuss issues of diversity and inclusion.

Although change is happening, one minority group that often gets neglected in the discussion of diversity in trail running is the Native American community. Recently, I interviewed Sheldon Subith, an accomplished masters’ runner from Hemet, California, who works to get more Native Americans into trail running. We discussed Subith’s running and vision for a more inclusive trail running community.

[TAYTE POLLMANN] How did you get into trail running?
[SHELDON SUBITH] I started running fifteen years ago to get back into shape. I fell in love with running trails and started entering races to motivate myself to train more consistently. I also knew I wanted to be in shape for my grandkids and running has helped me accomplish this.

[TAYTE] What do you enjoy most about being a trail runner?
[SHELDON] Being out on the trails in nature and competing at the national level in my age group category.

Sheldon Subith

[TAYTE] Tell us about your involvement with Native American communities.
[SHELDON] I’ve been involved in several ways with Native American communities in my area over the years. Firstly, I was the Athletic and Parks and Recreation Director at Noli Indian School in San Jacinto, California. I coached cross country for the middle and high school aged students, many of whom were coming from tough living situations and backgrounds. As a cross country coach, I would take the kids running on trails. The trails were great for training and the kids loved it. My motto as a coach was to never give up and finish strong. You can run the same hill every day and it doesn’t get easier. If you’re doing it right you’re getting faster. That’s the goal of training.

I also helped start the Soboba Trail Race, which included distances of 10, 25 and 50 kilometers. Race proceeds went to the Soboba Preschool, a preschool for Native American youth. Recently, I also introduced ultrarunner and event director Keira Henninger to the Cahuilla Native American populations in California. She has since been given permission by the tribes to host races on their sacred land. The first race will be The Elder Creek Trail Runs 30K/50K on February 6, 2021 and the second will be the Elder Creek Trail Runs 50 Mile/100K held one month later on March 6.

[TAYTE] Why do you think it’s important to encourage Native American communities to trail run?
[SHELDON] My main motivation is to decrease the high rate of diabetes among Native Americans. Trail running and education about diet can help combat this. Trail running is an accessible sport that doesn’t take much monetary investment and most reservations have extensive trail systems, so the people there could easily run in their own backyard without having to travel somewhere to run.

[TAYTE] What more should the sport be doing to be more inclusive for minorities such as Native Americans, people of color, women, youth, etc?
[SHELDON] Keep promoting the physical and mental benefits of trail running through representation of all walks of life. All types of runners belong in the trail running community.

[TAYTE] How do you plan to continue involving more Native Americans in trail running?
[SHELDON] I want to start the Native American Trail Running Association (NATRA) here in my hometown of Hemet, California. I have connections with several tribes in the area who are already on board. I envision a championship among reservations across the country that would change venues every year. I’d also encourage runners in these reservations to become USA Track & Field (USATF) members so their teams could compete in sectional and national USATF trail running events. The grand vision down the road would be to have a north, south, east and west championship that culminates in a national championship. This would be my way of repaying the Native American tribes for all they’ve done for me throughout my life.

[TAYTE] You’re quite the accomplished trail runner. At the 2020 USATF Trail Marathon Championships, you were the masters’ age-group winner for the 65-69 category. Take us through your training routine and what you do to stay in shape?
[SHELDON] I wake up at 2A.M. and I leave the door around 2:30A.M every day. I run, eat, work, sleep, and run a second time. I love racing and try to incorporate many races into my training routine. My favorite place to run is the Bautista Canyons in Southern California and surrounding hills. Running these trails keeps me fit and ready to race. I also find that as an aging runner, moving up in distance to longer races has helped me stay competitive. These races require less speed and more endurance, which makes them better suited for older athletes.

[TAYTE] How do you approach trail race competitions?
[SHELDON] I put my heart and soul into every competition. My goals are to win my age group and sometimes go for the overall win. Winning is definitely a large motivation of mine for racing.

[TAYTE] What are some of your favorite trail races?
[SHELDON] The Moab Trail Marathon has always been one of my favorite races. There’s a little bit of everything and I love the diversity of terrain that one encounters on this course. It’s full of challenges and I like that too!

[TAYTE] What are your trail racing goals for 2021?
[SHELDON] I’d like to run The Broken Arrow SkyRace 52K and Moab Trail Marathon.

Sheldon Subith

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